Sunday, November 29, 2015


I was reading a blog post the other day, when something stood out.  The writer, Carla Douglas, said, "Editors also know that readers don’t care whether a book is traditionally published or self-published."  This got me wondering how true this really was.

I think a decade or more ago, this statement would've been rubbish.  Prior to the revolution in how indie books are in terms of comparative quality, as well as the ebook explosion, indie publishing really was the last resort of those who couldn't get published any other way.  The quality was low, and there was almost no way to get your work to the audience.

However, strange things started happening.  Independent outlets to publish through, like Lightning Source and Create Space, started pushing out work that looked and felt just traditionally published books.  And when distribution became a problem, Amazon came along and made indie books virtually indistinguishable from traditionally published books in digital markets.  Suddenly any schmoe with a computer and access to the internet could put his or her work out there.  So the only real question that remains is how much the origin of the book matters in the mind of the audience.

It doesn't seem to be as big a deal as it used to be.  Nowadays, many readers don't even seem to know that they've picked up an indie book versus a traditional one.  Sure, some may turn their nose up at an indie book if they know that's what it is, but there's almost an allure of some kind for the indie market today.

Regardless of the elitism of whether you like indie books or don't like indie books, I think most folks simply want to read a good story.  And since there's little distinction between the two markets these days, I'm not sure that origin matters, but I could be wrong.  What do you think?  Does the audience give a shit if a book was traditionally published or indie published?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Shiny Onyx

I'm proud to announce that I've completed the first draft of my 8th novel, The Onyx Cluster.  It comes in at a shade under 80,000 words, and it surprised me throughout.  I started thinking about this book more than a decade ago when I had a dream about an apocalyptic wasteland where the sun never shone.  It got me to thinking, "What would cause such a thing, and what horrors would await within."

Over time, The idea evolved into something resembling a horror/thriller.  However, where it really evolved was when I began writing it, for it turned from what I described above into more of a mystery/thriller to get the main character to figure out he was being played the whole time.  Halfway through the book, I introduced a character that was initially designed to be a vehicle for the main character, Dr. John Forsythe, to fight the bad guys leading the malevolent force known as The Onyx Cluster.  However, as the plot evolved, making that vehicle much more prominent intrigued me, so the story evolved further.

Those who aren't writers are now reading this and muttering about what an artsy-fartsy asshole I sound like.  "Just write the damn story!" they'll shout.  But fellow writers know that our stories often surprise us.  I get how arrogant this sounds, but I don't create the story so much as I put characters into certain situations and see where they lead me.  Almost any writer would back me up that we're usually just watching the story we see in our minds and transcribing it for others.

I'll put The Onyx Cluster down for a while, likely more than a year.  I'll need to look at it with fresh eyes to see what needs to be fleshed out and what needs to be discarded.  Not touching a novel for a long time after completion almost lets you read it as a newcomer, so spotting flaws and ways to improve it become markedly better.

Following this, I need to go back into Schism and expand it a little so that the story has more meat on the bones.  That will be my December project.  Afterwards, I've got an idea for another post-apocalyptic novel, but this one is slightly more heretical.  Then it'll be time to compile my short story collection.  By the end of June, I hope to have ten books ready to start publishing(with some editing still required for later works, of course).  All I can say is that I can't wait for May of 2017.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Who Are The Stories For?

Writers constantly struggle with a fundamental element of writing - who are the stories for?  Do you write them for yourself, or do you write them with an audience in mind?  Prior to putting anything on paper, you need to answer this question, for it will have a great deal of impact on your style, your tone, and even your storyline.

I chose a long time ago to write stories for me.  I did this because I'm not psychic.  In fact, I've discovered that my insight into other people's likes and dislikes is surprisingly small.  Perhaps someone more in tune with others and their thoughts can write something specifically tailored to an audience apart from themselves, but I can't.

So I write what I would enjoy reading.  If an idea intrigues me, I play around with it.  Sometimes it yields a great story, and sometimes it just withers.  However, it's always a story that I would be interested in.

Doing this means accepting that some of the people you thought would like your story just won't.  Advertisers spend years in school and training trying to divine what an audience or market wants.  Despite my degree in business, I'm not very good at this.  People are remarkably unpredictable, and my trying to figure them out so that I can write specifically towards them would be like my trying to put together a nuclear reactor made from Lincoln Logs.

That said, my reading tastes haven't strayed too far from the "normal" track of what most people read.  My biggest flaw is that I often find a lot of book to be too dumbed down for my taste.  This gets reflected in my writing through my attempts to be subtle and leave more to the imagination of the reader than others might.  Of course, this means that I have to think during my editing process, "Are people really going to think this is clever, or will they wonder why I left out so much?"

I think writing for yourself is the way to go because you can best enjoy writing that way.  Others may disagree and write to certain groups, but I'm not one of them.  If doing the latter is your strength, then go for it.  As for me, I know what I can and can't do, so I write what I would like to read.  How about you?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Putting It Out There

My blog hasn't posted the numbers recently that I would've liked.  There was a time when this site was drawing in over 400 readers a week, making it an exciting time.  I wondered, "Have I finally arrived?"  That has all come crashing down now that the site is averaging less than 100 readers a week(sometimes barely 50).  I got to thinking about this and came to only one conclusion - it's my fault.

Blog readers like to stay engaged, but with only so much time in a day, they'll move on to something else if they find it more interesting.  Because of this, you need to bring in new faces on a constant basis.  I used to be able to do that.  So what has changed?

Basically, time.

I used to advertise my blog all over the place.  Tying in with a previous post, I also used to post on other people's sites a lot more than I do now.  If someone found my comment insightful, and this site was linked, maybe they hopped on over to see what it was like.  I also posted on Facebook and writing message boards, imploring people to give my latest post a chance.

I don't do that anymore.  I want to, but my time has become very limited.  Therefore, logically, traffic has subsided.  I know that a possible fix to this is getting back out there, so that's the first step.  It's going to be halting and require more effort than I now employ, but I hope it will re-draw interest.  I'm not looking for numbers just for the sake of numbers, but I'd love to get more readers and more comments so that we can engage in great dialogue about writing.  In the end, we can all benefit from it.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Going The Distance

Most of us like books of substance.  I know I do. I want a tome that is hefty enough that I can count on it occupying a good deal of my time when I'm bored.  No, I'm not looking for the next War and Peace, but something that suggests it can go longer than a commercial break is always welcome.  Therefore this is kind of how I approach my novels when I write.  I never have all the details of what a story will say, but I have a basic idea, and I can usually project from that the approximate length I'll produce.

However, the story itself doesn't always cooperate.  On rare occasion, I'll go over what I thought I was going to do, but that is a once in five-to-eight year phenomenon rather than something I have to worry about a lot.  No, what usually happens is my story runs its course in less than what I was expecting, and almost always by about 15-20%.

Do I now have enough imagination?  Am I unable to properly structure the story?

The conclusion I've come to is that while I could possibly build it further, that "further" is usually boring stuff that isn't essential to the plot.  If I've learned anything over the years, it's to not include extraneous bullshit in a story.  I cut over 30,000 words from Salvation Day, and not all of it was the adverbs and adjectives that make you cringe.  I cut whole sections that, upon further reading, didn't do anything to make the story better.  I found I could lose them and not lose anything in pacing or plot relevance.  After that, I started approaching all my prose with a simple question - how will the book suffer if this part/idea isn't included.  If I can live without it, I do.

Yes, that sometimes means that the 90,000 word novel I had in mind comes out to only 70,000 words, but it's a faster paced work that keeps readers engaged.  Doing otherwise runs the risk of boring the audience, and a bored audience will put your book down.  If you're lucky, maybe they'll pick it up later.  If you're unlucky, you just made their blacklist.

Don't be afraid to come up short on word count.  Go back and see if anything you add will enhance or detract from what you wrote.  And if it detracts, don't even put it in.  In other words, let the story go the way the story should go.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Blurbs

Go into a bookstore and read the blurbs on the back covers of the books.  This is your introduction, and one of the most important things a writer can do to get others interested.  If you think writing it properly is unimportant, check out the blurbs below:

- A well to do couple decide to take in a young boy orphaned by his parents.  However, the boy grows disdainful of the comfort they provide and takes the chance to run off and be with others outside of normal society.  When he finds trouble, as he often does, he has to rely on more learned members of society to get him past a series of dangerous addictions.

- When the established government is attacked by a group of violent extremists, its leaders turn to a misunderstood man to protect the safety of its citizens.  Through the use of magical powers and a sense of justice, this man works to stop these terrorists before they can cause harm to both the people and property charged with enforcing the law.

- There's a violent predator on the loose.  It roams the Earth with a single fury and has been known to drag men to their deaths without remorse.  Only one man, broken by years of torment and struggling with disability, has the courage to seek out this monster and bring it down before it can harm others, but can he convince his men to do what must be done?

- The world has ended.  A deadly virus has bene unleashed on mankind, and only a few are strong enough to survive.  A small group huddles in a place that once promised dreams but now promises confrontation.  Their savior is on hand, and he rebuilds their community from the despair that once engulfed their lives.  However, another faction nearly a thousand miles away has different ideas.  Prodded by a gray haired witch, the opposing faction seeks to destroy anyone who won't bow to their version of God.  Can even their psychic savior protect them?

Okay, does anyone know which stories I'm describing above?  It's easy...when you think about it:
1.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
2.  Star Wars
3.  Moby Dick
4.  The Stand

See how easy it is to twist even a well known classic into something unrecognizable?  This is why the blurb is so important.  Unfortunately, with traditional publishing, this blurb isn't usually something the writer gets a say over.  Some editor or unpaid intern in a cubicle thumbs through the book and decides what to say.  The problem, of course, is that this is a big part of the advertising for a book.  A lot of readers read descriptions to see if it's something they might be interested in.  That description might get you in the door, or it might get a shrug while the reader moves on to the next novel.

If you go indie, then I strongly suggest that you spend as much time on your blurb as you would have for that beloved query letter. This is your chance to grab a reader by the collar and scream, "YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK!"  If you shrug, figuring that you've created a story so compelling that people would be foolish to not read it, then you're setting yourself up for failure.  Blurbs get people into the story.  At that point, it's up to the story to keep them.  But if they don't open to the first page, your great story is worthless.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Keeping Up

I love to read posts from my fellow writers.  Every one of the blogs on the right hand side of this page are blogs I personally selected to advertise.  I think they're witty, insightful, and provide something different for writers to consider.  I love going through each one and picking out nuggets of wisdom.

Or at least I did love it.  Unfortunately, my current job takes an extraordinary amount of time, and that has prevented me from going as in depth on these sites as I used to.  I used to post a comment at least once a week, sometimes more often, on each site, if for no other reason than to keep the conversation going.  I knew that even if I couldn't keep up with the conversation in real time, someone would've kept it going so that I could catch up upon my return.

Reading and interacting are great with people of similar interests.  Note that I didn't say "of like mind" or "with similar backgrounds."  Diversity of ideas is the true measure of diversity, and I enjoy engaging with writers from all over the spectrum because each brings a unique take on how to approach whatever the topic is.

That's why I despair when I'm unable to do this as much as I would like.  Once this current job ends sometime next summer, and I get back on a more sane schedule, I look forward to getting back into it.  And if you're not into such things, you should try.  The posts themselves are great, but it's the interaction with the other readers and even the site owner that provides the greatest potential to broaden what you know.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Canonical Stories

Fan fiction is one of the biggest things out there.  I include in that not only things written on fan message boards or in that journal some teenage girl keeps hidden under her bed, but also things on the shelf in bookstores that are part of an already established universe.  Every universe that has had publishing success has these books, from Star Wars to Star Trek to Warhammer.  Just to go any Barnes & Noble and you'll find shelf after shelf filled with these tomes.

I confess that, with rare exception, I don't like these.  The reason is the lack of consistency between the books.  I get how hard it is to keep up with every nuance of every book out there in a particular universe, but as a fan, I find it exhausting to try and figure it out.  Are the Borg extinct in this book, or did they retreat into interstellar space like that other one said?  Was Luke ever married?  Seems so in one but not another.  This book says that Spock made Captain, but that one over there says he only ever wanted to be a science officer.

Like I said - exhausting.

This is why I prefer original stories all written by the same author.  One person is better able to keep up with his or her universe.  When I get into The Great War Series, I don't have to worry if one author or another is going to tweak details that they want changed but I find maddening.  A single point of filtration means that I get one person's vision, which is what I want since no two people are likely to have the same vision.

Some of you like these canonical stories, and that's great, but I'm not one of them.  I want to create an original universe, for I find it fun when I have to come up with everything involved.  Writing canon seems lazy to me, as if I'd be riding someone else's coattails.  Sorry, but I want to make my own coattails.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


When we start out as writers, we're convinced we've stumbled on that one great idea for a story that is going to revolutionize the way people read books.  It's so good, in fact, that there are surely hordes of people out there who would steal our idea and claim it for their own if they get to it before we write it all down, or even after we right it down but it's not yet published, right?


So we guard our stuff more closely than the gold at Fort Knox.  Only a few trusted friends are allowed to see our work, and then only a few chapters at a time.  I was once so paranoid about my stuff getting out there before I was ready that the only way I would let others read any of it was by printing it out and then demanding those pages back afterwards.  You that no one could run a few copies and steal it.

I should've just relaxed - no one was going to steal my stuff.  And no one is going to steal yours.

Let's assume for a moment that someone heard your idea and wanted to write a similar story - do you think they'd tell it the same way?  Would they get all the nuance you did?  Would their characters be the same?  Would it be anything close to your story?  Chances are almost certainly not.

So you've found a unique twist on vampires.  Even those who write for a living aren't going to hear about how you'll describe their dastardly plan for governmental infiltration or their ability to time travel and remake the Catholic Church and say, "Golly, I must write that myself."  What they're going to hear is, "Hey, there's another vampire story out there."

And should someone get a hold of your manuscript, you needn't worry.  It's protected the moment you wrote it down.  Should the thief avoid the numerous legal obstacles in his or her way to steal your manuscript word for word and then publish this SUPER GREAT IDEA(!!!!!) by an unknown author in a saturated market - a surefire recipe for financial success - once it came out that you wrote it, wouldn't the resulting controversy and publicity work to your favor?  Wouldn't that make it easier for you to sell your next work?

The overwhelming, vast majority of folks have better things to do than steal your manuscript, no matter how good it is.  I'm sure they'll enjoy it, but claiming it for themselves is highly unlikely.  Even other writers aren't going to take your stuff and gleefully exclaim, "It's mine...IT'S ALL MINE!  MUAHAHAHAHA!"  The biggest worry you're going to have is that your work will be a success and some other writer is going to say you stole their idea.  That'll throw you for a loop.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Why Pitching Sucks

I've made a full move over to indie publishing.  However, that doesn't mean I'm not still aware of the traditional world.  My email is filled with posts from numerous writing sites, many of which implore me to "hone the elevator pitch" or "prepare a query letter that will grab them."  Sometimes I read these, and sometimes I don't, but they always make me chuckle.

One of the things I despise about traditional publishing is the pitch you have to give someone(usually not even an editor, but rather a literary agent) to try and convince them in 30 seconds why your masterpiece is worth it.  And if you don't grab them in that 30 seconds because you chose to be a writer rather than a motivational speaker, it simply sucks to be you.

I can hold my own when talking to a crowd or a stranger, but not every writer can.  In fact, a lot of writers got into writing as a means to express themselves without having to talk to people on a regular basis.  They're very fluent and can move mountains with the written word, but their verbal communication skills are lacking.

However, that doesn't stop every writers' conference I've ever read about from trumpeting its "pitch slam."  These are basically traditional publishing's answer to speed dating - you spend a couple of minutes with an honest-to-God-literary-agent trying to sell them on your novel.  Fail to get more than a "ho hum," and they'll move on to the next speed dater faster than you can say Hitch.

Yet how does one describe the intricacies of a novel in 30 seconds to a minute?  Yes, you should be able to get a summary, but a summary is just that - a summary.  Do you have any idea how many books I've read the summary on, thought "no way," and then read a page or two and decided to keep going?  That's not to say you shouldn't have a good summary to entice readers, but the book should be so much more.  Conveying the meaning and passion of a book in two minutes is nigh impossible if you want to not sound like a crazy person.

This is another reason why indie is nice - you only have to sell yourself before you publish, and the market will decide if you've got talent rather than somebody who wanted to be a writer but didn't want to go through that nasty writing process.  You can work on your summary and get the opinion of others, deciding whether to use it or not as opposed to being directed to.  And you don't have to talk to people you don't want to.

After all, we're writers, right?

Thursday, November 5, 2015

When You're Dead, Stay Dead

Characters help drive our love of books.  We get to know them, care about them, and want to know what happens to them.  And when they die, we sometimes mourn.  However, like with all deaths that affect us, we grieve and then move on...right up until the writer brings back that dead character.

I'll be perfectly honest - I hate that.  There's little more jarring than when you've gone through something traumatic with a character, started moving on, and then they're back in your reading life again.  Aside from dealing with the emotions associated with reviving someone you thought was gone, you now have to deal with the sudden inconsistencies in the plot.

Bringing back a dead character was cool the first time or two it was done.  Now, on the other hand, it has gotten tedious.  How am I to approach a story like that?  Do I keep reading it in a serious way, or do I now treat it like the silly trash it is?  What other "surprises" should I be prepared for?  I'm not talking about when a character goes missing or their fate is uncertain since that kind of ambiguity is great for having someone reappear; I'm talking about a character takes five slugs to the chest or has his head ripped from his body.  You just don't recover from an injury like that.

This sometimes happens with heroes, but it seems to happen more and more with villains.  I get it - the villain gave the hero such a rough time that some of us want to re-live that tension, but can't we move on to new tension?  Isn't that the point of tension?  Writers should be competent enough to come up with characters who can create complicated plotlines without resorting to the same old characters time and time again.

Besides, moving a story along by keeping characters dead lets me keep a sense of reality, even in a fantastical universe.  People don't just suddenly spring back to life in the real world, so why should it happen in our fiction?  Yes, yes, I know it's a story, so anything can happen, but it removes a layer of immersion and reminds me it's a story with tricks like that.  I want to forget I'm reading fantasy and let it be my focus, something not easy to do when people keep coming back from the dead.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Value Of Ignorance

Most people think they're really smart.  They're wrong.  Don't worry - I count myself as part of this crowd.

We all read up on lots of things that aren't our field of expertise and then imagine that we're experts.  I've been known to spend my nights reading Wikipedia articles on black holes just because I find them fascinating, and it gives me a little more knowledge.  However, this knowledge is shallow at best - any competent physicist would laugh at me while he or she ran circles around my ignorance.  Still, none of this stops any of us from giving long soliloquys about ocean currents, survival techniques, or dance.  It lets us sound smart, and most folks really don't know enough to challenge us.

And that's a good thing from a writing perspective.

Think about it like this - have you ever watched a military movie with a professional Soldier?  Most Soldiers I know can't watch them because these movies are so out of touch with reality that they laugh the whole way, pointing out every error they find(which are legion).  Most people find this annoying since they just want to enjoy the show.  They have enough shallow understanding to enjoy what they see without having so much that the movie is unwatchable.

This is a gift to we writers.  Unless our chosen field is really nuclear physics, dance choreography, or Army battalion commander, we don't know the real intricacies of the subject, so we learn just enough to get by, and most readers give us a pass.  After all, it sure sounds like we know what we're talking about.  However, if truly probed, our knowledge base collapses.

We have to use the ignorance of the general public to get them to buy off on what we write.  Go esoteric enough, and most people won't question what you say.  In science fiction, does anyone really care enough to learn about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to know why the position and momentum of an object can't be simultaneously measured with a high degree of accuracy?  Or is it enough to use it in ways as some sort of techno-babble talking about the problems with your teleportation device?  It may sound laughable to a scientist, but it sure looks smart to those of us who read internet articles and like books.

Use the ignorance of the audience when you need to.  It can be in terms of geography(is that bridge really there in Dearborn?), politics(it sure would be neat if states could really nullify federal laws in their territory), or whatever else advances your plot.  Don't go so overboard that even the casual reader will look at you funny, but it's not always bad to cheat a bit on the details.  Remember, if it's stupid but works, then it's not stupid.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

An Independent Martian?

Due to my current living situation, I'm unable to see the movie The Martian.  It looks like smart science fiction that I might enjoy(but, damn, from The Martian to Saving Private Ryan to Interstellar, we sure spend a lot of time trying to retrieve Matt Damon).  I was even more excited to learn it was based on a book, so I've decided that I need to make that novel something to read over the upcoming Christmas holidays.

At first, I gave no thought to where it came from.  It simply looked like an interesting book to read.  Then I heard something that gave me pause - The Martian began as an indie novel!  Surely this couldn't be true, I thought.  Then I did some research, and it turns out to absolutely be true.

We've all heard about indie success stories, from JA Konrath to Hugh Howey to Amanda Hocking, the tales of indie authors who've made it big(by our standards) are part of what keeps us going.  However, so rarely does someone like Andy Weir just pop out of nowhere.  Originally published in 2011, his novel was picked up by Crown publishing and re-released in 2014.  Then it was noticed by Ridley Scott.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

This is another example, to me, of how the old canard of "well, if you couldn't get a real publishing contract, you went indie" is total bullshit.  Granted, Weir struck gold quite by accident, but that doesn't negate the fact that he first offered it on his own website as a free story until others begged him to put it on Amazon, which he did...for 99 cents(it's now $9 at Amazon; it looks like a blockbuster movie increases the price).  Weir never imagined it would go this big, but something in the story resonated, and he's the latest example of indie success(albeit one of the brightest).

Some will point to him, or a few of the others I mentioned, and say that they're rare, they won the lottery, you shouldn't count on that, blah blah blah; but they say the same thing about traditional publishing success.  Doesn't Weir provide inspiration that you can make it in the indie market?  Shouldn't we use that as motivation rather than writing it off?  I think Weir shows that it takes the right story at the right moment - why not try to find that moment yourself?